Easter, its meaning and origins posted by Fr Kevin Walsh Number 115

24 Mar



Here in Rembrandt’s painting Christ stands behind the angel. But he is no longer a recognisable human being. Instead pure light and energy radiate out of the darkness of the tomb, a theological statement rather than a physical one. In the face of this light, the human beings in the painting tumble into a confused group.

Rembrandt, perhaps the most famous Dutch painter of the 17th century and one of the greatest in all Europe, was using the same technique that Caravaggio used with such success: a strong light highlighting the darkness around it.

The 1630’s was a particularly prosperous time for Rembrandt. He married Saskia van Uylenburgh, the wealthy niece of an art dealer, and they had four children, only one of whom survived. His firstborn son was born and died in the year ‘The Resurrection’ was painted. The idea of Christ’s conquest over Death may have seemed especially relevant to Rembrandt at this painful time, since he was deeply religious and a devoted family man.

Easter (Old English: Ēostre; Greek: Πάσχα, Paskha; Aramaic: פֶּסחא‎ Pasa; from Hebrew: פֶּסַח‎ Pesa) is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year.[1] According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday[2] (also Resurrection Day or Resurrection Sunday). The chronology of his death and resurrection is variously interpreted to have occurred between AD 26 and 36.

Easter marks the end of Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. The last week of the Lent is called Holy Week, and it contains Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Easter is followed by a fifty-day period called Eastertide or the Easter Season, ending with Pentecost Sunday.

Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox.[3] Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on March 21 (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on March 20 in most years), and the “Full Moon” is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between March 22 and April 25. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian Calendar whose March 21 corresponds, during the 21st century, to April 3 in the Gregorian Calendar, in which calendar their celebration of Easter therefore varies between April 4 and May 8.

Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for “Easter” and “Passover” are etymologically related or homonymous.[4]

Easter customs vary across the Christian world, but decorating Easter eggs is a common motif. In the Western world, customs such as egg hunting and the Easter Bunny extend from the domain of church, and often have a secular character.

 1233013090c3BdxQ.jpg Easter Eggs

The ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus all believed the world began with an enormous egg, thus the egg as a symbol of new life has been around for eons. The particulars may vary, but most cultures around the world use the egg as a symbol of new life and rebirth. A notation in the household accounts of Edward I of England showed an expenditure of eighteen pence for 450 eggs to be gold-leafed and coloured for Easter gifts. The first book to mention Easter eggs by name was written five hundred years ago. Yet, a North African tribe that had become Christian much earlier in time had a custom of coloring eggs at Easter. Long hard winters often meant little food, and a fresh egg for Easter was quite a prize. Later, Christians abstained from eating meat during the Lenten season prior to Easter. Easter was the first chance to enjoy eggs and meat after the long abstinence.

Some European children go from house to house begging for Easter eggs, much like Halloween trick-or-treaters. Called pace-egging, it comes from the old word for Easter, Pasch. Many old cultures also attributed the egg with great healing powers. It is interesting to note that eggs play almost no part in the Easter celebrations of Mexico, South America, and Native American Indian cultures. Egg-rolling contests are a symbolic re-enactment of the rolling away of the stone from Christ’s tomb. The decoration of small leaf-barren branches as Easter egg trees has become a popular custom in the United States since the 1990s. Here in Australia, Coles, Woolworths and Darrel Lea have been selling Easter Eggs, Rabbits and Hot Cross Buns since February. On Holy Thursday the Sydney Royal Easter Show opens its gates, and make sure that your credit is good!!!! For others Easter is just another Holiday time to perhaps get away to the Beach. The Lenten penance for lots of people ends up being the heavy traffic leading out of Sydney. And yet all the while the antiphon is there for the listening……Lord, by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free, you are the Saviour of the World.




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